Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ironman Cairns - put it on your bucket list

When 'Challenge Cairns' changed ownership and became part of the 'Ironman' franchise a few months ago, this race suddenly popped up on my radar like a sneaky U-sub. It would be one of the best opportunities to grab one of those illusive slots for the big dance in Kona (the Ironman World Championships), because many of those who had been focusing on getting over to Hawaii would have already committed to the other qualifiers in Australia (and NZ). 

I still wasn't convinced it was such a great idea. It was the tail end of a massive season, I'd been doing mainly short course stuff, and the plan was always to take a break after Mooloolaba (which was only 9 weeks before Cairns). Enter stage left, one Tony Applin, who planted some seeds in my ear while I was high on endorphins at a Reddog SBR session! A few beers later on that night and I was done for EUI (entering under the influence). 

Fast forward past two months of solid training to exchange the twin turbo engine for a V12 and I found myself in Cairns ready for the countdown. I'll admit I was pretty nervous on the Thursday and Friday thinking about what was about to happen. Luckily I had my beautiful wife, mum and step-dad with me to act as human versions of Valium. Plus, staying at a place with a name like this was always going to be a good omen...

 Come Saturday the calm 'hindu cow' feeling kicked in (some form of prehistoric caveman pre-battle instinct I think) and I was ready to GET IT ON! The morning of the race I was up at 4 for a feed, back to bed for an hour or so and then headed down to transition. 

No need to stress as everything was done. Perhaps I was a bit too relaxed though because I missed the swim start by about 100m! There was a fairly large group of us just getting off the pier into the water when I looked up and all of these arms were in action heading towards the first buoy! On the upside I missed out on some of the initial carnage of flying elbows and fists and was able to find my own space pretty quick. 

The two laps of the swim were fairly uneventful - I managed to consistently pass people (another benefit of missing the start!) which made me feel like I was going alright. No sign of crocs so that was also a bonus. Out of the water in 1:04:53 (28/99). Slower than I hoped but not too shabby considering the length of the run into transition (and the late start). 

Out onto the bike course, and what a bike course! Along the coastline up to Port Douglas. Spectacular views (check out the video at the bottom if you have the time). There was a bit of 'argy bargy' for the first 15k as we were looking for a bit of space on narrow sections to keep with the 12m drafting rule. I got a laugh out of seeing a guy who had ridden up beside a few of us shouting "sort yourselves out!" get a yellow card for drafting a few minutes later. 

180ks is a bit of a hike so I got into my own rhythm as soon as I could - keep within the power range I knew I could hold and did my best to keep the speed above 36khr (I wanted a sub-5 hour bike split) without burning too many matches (i.e. spiking my heart rate). I'd like to say I used the time to solve world famine and the economic crisis, but in all honesty my mind just floated around a bit. I took in the scenery, made sure I was keeping good form, thought about the food and drink I was putting in, waved to the crowd and acknowledged the volunteers, pondered the fact that I hadn't peed yet and then thought "don't think about it because you'll make yourself want to go"...

I could see two of the guys in my Age Group that I knew ahead of me at the Port Douglas turnaround and started to focus on slowly closing the gap. Anything to break up the time. 

The further into the ride the quieter it started to get in terms of passing bikes and from 15k out it was empty in front of me (except for Brett Pidgeon who shot past me like a rocket!). In the end I was watching my computer head towards 180k and it looked like I was going to crack the 5hrs! But then... 180.1 ... 180.2 ... up to 181.5k! So my bike split ended up at 5:00:25 (4/99) and I was 5th off the bike and onto the course. 

At this stage I was still feeling good. Time to bounce back through the cane fields and into town! A glance at my watch told me I was running 4:05-4:10 min pace per k, quicker than planned but I made the decision that as long as I felt comfortable and my breathing wasn't labored then I would just let my body do its thing. Again, I think my motto for the day was "it's all about the rhythm - relax, smile and enjoy". Like a train on the tracks I just keep moving forward, running tall, light feet. Easy right? 

It's about 23k into town, so for a long time it's just you and an aid station every few ks. And your friend the sun. Lesson learned from my one and only other Ironman distance race was to have a plan but listen to your body as well. So while I had an idea of how much food I needed to get in, I balanced it with what I felt like. Some coke, lots of ice and a gel at every 2nd aid station. "Little bits often" I heard Craig Alexander (World Ironman Champion) say in an interview. 

I was lucky enough to have Carlos Rubio drive past on a scooter checking out my ass - while I felt like a piece of meat I enjoyed the quick chat and hearing someone say "you're looking great! Keep it up!" (in hindsight coming from Carlos that is a bit suggestive?) Haha ;-) My goal was to get to town as quick as I could, knowing the crowds would help me through the second half of the run.

It was great to see my family, friends, the Reddog crew and Joey literally dressed as a red dog. While I was hurting it was controlled and I thought that if I could hold it together this was going to be a good day. Famous last words, as with 8k to go the body started to mount it's attack. First my groin cramped, then my hamstring, then both of my big toes curled up! I was getting cramps in places I didn't know could cramp! 
The warning signs had started and I tried to get some salt into me asap. It would work for a few minutes and then BANG! Gone again. I continued this back and forth dance with my body until a heart-sinking thing happened - I ran out of salt. Almost 9 hours into my day and now my legs don't want to move forward anymore. I shorted the stride length a bit, but it was a slippery downhill slope that I was on.

By far I had just entered the toughest 6ks of my life. I knew I was in third, I knew the guy behind me was only a few minutes back, and my legs were tighter than an emo's jeans that had shrunk in the wash. To say I felt devastated is an understatement. I was on struggle street through to the end but just had to keep running. I figured until I fell over then my muscles would just have to get over it. A few times they put up a good fight and I had to stop dead in my tracks. But each time I just started to shuffle forward again and managed to get a short stride going.

Marathon time of 3:16:24 (4/99).

I have never before felt the elation and personal satisfaction I did when I crossed that finish line. I put everything into this day from beginning to end and can say honestly that it pushed me to new limits. And after someone had labelled me a few months ago as a 'Gatorade superstar with the heart the size of a half sucked hundreds and thousands' who would shrivel up in an Ironman, it was nice to prove that such a small heart can make it around an Ironman course ok ;-)

Across the line in 9:28:17 for 3rd place.

The good news - that was enough to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii! Turns out this year I am going to fulfill a longtime dream. What better timing could I have - I will be over there to see the Lance / Macca / Craig Alexander showdown. 

A big thank-you to the following for your support, not only leading into this race but over the entire season: Chaingang Performance Bikes, Mizuno, Active Stride, Endura, Reddog Triathlon Training, Three Girls Skipping, and Dale Boase Massage and Soft Tissue Therapy. Special thanks to my wife for her patience and massage skills, my mum, step-dad, sisters, brother-in-law (ish), niece, nephew, family and friends. Yes, even you Carlos Rubio. 

This is more for the family, I'm sure the rest of you will find it a bit boring. This is when the big announced was made and I knew I was really going to Hawaii!


1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Scott!! I know zilch about all that but well done, and all the best for Hawaii.Now I know what the Konan is!! :-)